Spring is a time of beauty and sweet smells as nature unfurls from the heaviness of winter. It’s a time to soak in the sunshine, breathe in the new blooms and enjoy all the outdoors have to offer—that is, until allergies kick in.
Allergies can be miserable with seemingly no end in sight. They keep your body in a perpetual battle mode to defend you from what your immune system perceives as potential threats of pollen, mould, or other substances in the environment. Drug stores are stocked with an arsenal of allergy medications this time of year to help ease symptoms, although there can be unwanted side effects with such medicines, such as drowsiness.
As an alternative, consider a more long-lasting and meaningful approach to getting rid of Spring allergies by using Ayurvedic practices. The body’s innate wisdom is a factor that’s often overlooked, especially in an age of quick fixes. By taking the time to pay attention, you can listen to your body and put into practice approaches founded in ancient wisdom to enjoy Spring as it is meant to be—a time of renewed vigour and new beginnings.
The Season of Kapha
The mind-body healing system of Ayurveda sees the individual as one with nature. Thus, as the snow melts and prepares the soil for growth, and animals shed their winter coats and expend their energy stored up from winter, we also go through our own similar process, just as it has been done for thousands of years. Though, sometimes it’s not that easy when allergies are involved.
Allergies affect people in different ways and can be influenced by your primary dosha. If you don’t know your primary dosha, you can take the quiz here. It’s helpful to understand your own mind-body constitution (Vata, Pitta, and/or Kapha) and notice where there might be some imbalances to help determine the cause of your allergies beyond pollen. Allergies associated with Kapha are especially strong during the Spring season.
Each season is associated with a specific dosha, which are composed of the different elements (earth, water, space, wind, and fire). Spring is governed by the Kapha dosha, made up of earth and water, which has qualities of being:
In nature, these qualities are increasing this time of year (think melting snow and wet, cool earth). Since you are an extension of nature, these same qualities are also increasing in you—though they become expressed in different ways depending on the individual. Take a closer look at the Kapha dosha and its characteristics to help understand its effects.
In balance, Kapha has the following characteristics:
- Provides lubrication of joints
- Provides sufficient mucous to lubricate mucous membranes
Out of balance, or an excess of Kapha, can lead to fluid retention and feelings of being:
An excess of Kapha in Spring can specifically lead to allergy symptoms such as:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
If Kapha imbalances remain unchecked, they can lead to ama, the Sanskrit word for both physical and emotional toxicity. In a state of balance, there is seamless flow to taking in food and information into the body and then releasing anything that is not needed. The same applies to emotions. This encourages a feeling of health and vibrancy, and becomes especially poignant during the Spring allergy season. When this flow is blocked, ama is accumulated and an imbalance occurs, just as it would occur in nature. Kapha allergy symptoms are an example of an accumulation of ama that needs to be flushed out.
How to Balance Your Body and Mind
Whether you are experiencing full blown allergies or not, it’s important this time of year to find ways to balance both your body and mind. Use the cleansing energy of the season to your advantage. Here are ways to incorporate Ayurvedic strategies to “lighten up” your daily life and become an expert on what you need to stay balanced.
Try a Cleanse
There are many programs out there for cleansing, but start simply. Cleansing helps to clear ama from the body by kindling your Agni, or digestive power, which in Ayurveda is vital towards achieving good health. There are many benefits to cleansing and can last for a half-day, full day, or longer. Click here for more information on choosing the right cleanse for you.
Use More Spices
Incorporate more warming spices into your diet to encourage digestion and push through any stagnation in the body. Some of the most effective spices include:
- Black pepper
- Mustard seed
Drink Plenty of Water
To get the gunk off a pan, you must first soak it in hot water to loosen it before it can be rinsed off. This same idea applies to removing ama from the body. It takes some getting used to, but can be a powerful addition to your routine. Try drinking hot water with lemon as soon as you wake up to encourage the gastro-colic reflex.
A Kapha imbalance will make you prefer the couch to the treadmill. If you get plenty of sleep, but still feel exhausted, this may be a sign that your body needs to move more. If you can’t head outdoors to exercise, try doing some yoga such as sun salutations or head to the gym for some cardio exercises to get your heart pumping. If you have access to a sauna, this is also a good way to increase circulation in the body and remove toxins. Whatever it takes, keep yourself moving.
Minimise Heavy Foods
Lightening up requires minimising heavy foods such as:
- Oily foods
- Refined sugar
- Processed food
- Salty foods
Instead, stick to fresh, lightly cooked vegetables, grains, and legumes. Green leafy vegetables are a powerhouse when it comes to decreasing Kapha congestion. In anticipation of Spring allergy season, begin to follow this diet early on to ease symptoms. Click here for more ideas.
Perform Breathing Exercises
Research has found a link between psychological stress and allergy flares. Ayurveda considers pranayama, or breathing exercises, as way to calm the mind and body so that it can respond and function more efficiently. Try performing bhastrika breath, which provides many benefits, including:
- Strengthening the heart and lungs
- Stoking digestive fire (Agni)
- Cleansing the nasal passages and sinuses
Be sure to have a tissue on hand when doing breathing exercises to clear the nose, just in case.
Use a Neti Pot and Nasya
An effective treatment of allergies and general sinus congestion is the use of the neti pot followed by nasya. The neti pot can be found in most drug stores and is a small container used with warm saline wash to flush the nasal passages of any foreign material. This can be done once or twice daily as needed. Nasya is the Ayurvedic practice of applying a few drops of oil to the nasal passages, which helps to reduce dryness and post-nasal drip. It’s more effective to start this treatment before congestion or allergies are at their peak.
Get to the Root Cause
Getting to the root cause of allergies will sometimes require some detective work. There is no one who knows you better than you. In addition to understanding your dosha and the seasonal effects, it’s also helpful to consider other factors such as emotional health. After all, ama is not only the physical accumulation of toxins, but emotional as well. Nothing occurs in isolation: what affects one thing will affect the other. Take some time to seek stillness and perhaps you will discover some underlying issues affecting you. Here are a few ideas on how to become an expert on yourself:
Put It to Paper
The physical act of writing can help gain some clarity around certain issues, especially when the answer remains elusive. It doesn’t have to be long paragraphs; you can just jot down a few sentences. Thoughts mulling around in the mind take on new meaning when written down. Start with 10 minutes where you write down anything that comes to mind without worrying about punctuation or grammar. Are there repeating patterns or something you are stuck on? You might be surprised what you discover.
Cultivating a regular meditation not only calms the mind, but also increases self-awareness and improves health and well-being, equipping you to better adapt to stress. Find a teacher in your area or try a guided meditation. Also, the 21-Day Meditation Experience with Oprah and Deepak Chopra is a fun and easy way to get started if you are new to meditation.
Find the Time
If you’re wondering how you will be able to incorporate these various practices into your already busy life, think about your current routine. Ask yourself:
- Is there something that I can shorten or remove to make more time?
- How much time do I spend watching T.V.?
- How long do I spend in bed before getting up and going?
Once you carve out more time, start to add one or two things a week to help ease into the change. Use technology and set reminders when it’s time to meditate or drink water. Over time, it will become a habit rather than a chore.
It’s important to note that the benefits are cumulative. While you may not notice much difference this year, you might notice a big difference the following year. By continuing to make conscious choices to reduce ama and restore agni, the less likely you will experience health issues like allergies. It’s important to experience your connection to the external world, which should be nourishing rather than aggravating. Have patience and always keep heading in the direction of balance, and you will be rewarded.